Andrew flew down the hill at Big White, knees pumping in perfect rhythm as he pursued his personal record on the way down the black diamond run. The moguls had been perfectly groomed and a light dusting of powder from the night before sent sprays of snow off the ends of his skis. His breath puffed out in small clouds of steam, and the cold bit at his exposed cheeks. Four more turns and he ducked across the finish. His sister stood at the bottom with the stopwatch, and he covered her in a cold blast of white crystals as he slid to a stop, skidding sideways across the packed icy surface. “Well?” he asked.
“Shaved 1.5 seconds off your last run.” Morgan grinned. “How do you do it? At your age, you’re still getting better every year. This Christmas isn’t any different.”
“Keeping up with Glen while he rehabbed his shoulder, got me back into shape again. I’ve had to trim my mile run times too. Feels great to be alive.” He said still trying to catch his breath.
“You’re forgetting you were rehabbing yourself. How’s the thigh?”
“Not even a twinge. The physio people released the last of the adhesions a couple of weeks ago. That annoying hitch is gone. I think I can say I’m finally back in fighting shape.”
They turned down the hill together, taking the bunny run at the bottom back down to the lodge. Morgan was taking it easy these days, carrying the triplets she was pregnant with, made skiing a bit more challenging. He could see the bump of babies easily as at three months she was showing a prominent bulge already. He wonder how she and James were going to manage. Remembering the first year of his daughter’s life, if his grandparents hadn’t be there, he’d have been sunk.
They made their way into the lodge after locking their skis and poles into the storage rack out front. It looked like every other skier on the hill had had the same idea, and the tables were crowded. Morgan scanned the lounge area and finally spotted James and Blaire at the back, tucked into a spot close to the big fireplace. Flames flickered deep orange with quite pops coming from the wood as pockets of sap super heated and exploded. The noise from everyone talking and laughing at the same time, drowned out the background music for the most part, but Bing Crosby’s I’m dreaming of a White Christmas still managed to soar over the din.
James spotted them at the same moment Morgan figured out where they were and waved them over. He lifted a drink tray with four hot drinks in it, so Andrew started to thread his way through the throng. No one seemed to mind when the bumped against a shin or brushed past a back. Everyone was in a great mood. There were a several people who had a leg up, splinted, waiting for the rest of their groups to finish the day before they headed into the city for better medical care. Lots of sprains, from the look of it. Friendly calls of congrats, from some of the regulars who knew them, sounded as Morgan followed him. Their skiing buddies were just figuring out Morgan was expecting. James moved his legs out of the way, letting Morgan by him to sit on the inside of the U-shaped couch, Blaire scooted over to sit beside her leaving the outside seat facing James for Andrew.
“So, what was your time down our favorite mogul run?” Blaire demanded. She had an idea what her best was, and she was wondering if she’d be better off skiing with Andrew on some of the more challenging terrain. Morgan was pretty much stuck on the the easy blues or greens because of the babies, and James didn’t like the moguls as much as the pure speed of the long downhills. Alanna had taken Doug and Mike under her wing and disappeared over to the the snowboard terrain park. She was free to truly enjoy a skiing holiday without having to watch out for her boys. Her dark green eyes sparkled with mischief.
“He shaved another second and a half off yesterday’s time. I’m not even going to try keeping up with him.” Morgan bragged. “It’s down to a shade under three minutes from the top of Black Magic. He isn’t breaking form either. No caught edges this time.”
Andrew shrugged. “I’m not going to get that lucky every time down. What’s your best Blaire? I hear you used to be a demon on the moguls.”
“We’ve never timed her, but I could never keep up, still can’t even though I’m good on the long downhill speed runs.” James put in.
“I’ve never timed myself either, I did get an offer from a ski coach who was watching one winter when I was in my teens. He told me I looked like a natural, and he’d bet he could get me into shape for a serious run at the national ski team. I had to tell him no. I’ll bet I can stay with you anywhere on the mountain though.”
“I’ll take you up on that.” Andrew accepted. He took a closer look at Blaire. He hadn’t forgotten the curvy armful she was, when she tripped and fallen into his lap at Morgan’s wedding. Her hair was deep chocolate brown framing a heart shaped face with a long nose. Her mouth was generous, with a full lower lip and smiled easily. Her eyes were dark green, with small flecks of gold. He could already tell they’d change with her mood. At the moment they shone with pleasure.
“What do you think Morgan? I’m game for one more speed run from the top, but I don’t know if you want to go or not.” James suggested.
“I’m going to make my way over to the terrain park to see what the kids are up to, then head back to the cabin. Mom is coming in on the next shuttle, and Grandma and Grandda are there already. I think Gram and Gramps came in earlier today, from a text I got earlier. It’s going to be a full house for Christmas this year. I don’t remember the last time we had the whole family together like this.”
“Blaire, if Morgan gets the kids together and takes them back to the cabin with her, are you willing to stay out, and catch a little night skiing with me?” Andrew asked.
“Sounds fabulous, I haven’t done that since I was in college. Let’s go.” Blaire rose, impatient, ready to go in an instant. She pulled a cherry red toque on and settled her ski goggles on her forehead.
Andrew stood deliberately blocking her way for a second, enjoying the firm nudge of her hip as she pushed him. James turned to help Morgan to her feet, and they made their way through the emptying tables to head out onto the hill again. Morgan stopped by her skis and tugged his face down for a kiss. “I’m probably going to leave Alanna in charge of the boys and head back for a nap,” She whispered in his ear, “I’m getting tired easily these days, Dr. Beth said I’d be feeling it. At least she’s not against me getting out on the hill.”
“Listen to your body, if you’re tired nap. It isn’t a crime,” James encouraged her. “I’m heading all the way to the top, so that’ll take me at least half an hour on the lifts. I’ll be coming in about an hour or so. See you then.” He kissed the tip of her nose and glided away to catch up with Andrew and Blaire. They could share the ride up on the first lift of the three he needed to get to the top.
Morgan continued down the impeccably groomed cat track toward the snowboard terrain park. She could see families with small children on the toboggan run on the other side of it and imagined what it would be like to take her triplets sliding down it. She remembered her father sending her down the hill for the first time on her own, the terror and the thrill of cold air rushing by her face, and the urge to to close her eyes. Then when her stomach had dropped out from under her going over a bump, she’d been hooked. She remembered climbing the hill towing her miniature toboggan behind her. She was exhausted when she got to the top, but she’d gone down again and again. Every holiday after had included an afternoon on the hill. This year would be the first time since then she couldn’t participate. She couldn’t take the risk this time. There was more at stake than a couple of broken bones.
Spotting Alanna’s neon green toque, she looked around in time to watch Mike do a perfect 360 over a picnic table. Doug was right behind him and executed a front flip with a full twist. Those two were way more advanced than she thought. She waved to them and Alanna slid to a stop beside her.
“I’m ready to head in, but I just had an idea of what to get those two for a Christmas gift. They can use for the next few days after, before we go home. I’m going to enroll them in the half pipe advanced coaching class. I’ll bet they get even better.” Morgan told her.
“I have a lot of fun on this course,” Alanna said, “but those two are beyond anything I can do. You’d be doing me a favor. I’d like to do some long runs on the other side of the mountain over the rest of the week. They’ve got one hell of a lot of energy.”
“Let me duck into the pro shop and pay for those classes and let them take one more run. We’ll head back to the cabin after. I think there will be a few more presents to put under the tree. My mother came in on the afternoon bus, and your grandparents will be there too.”
“Grammie and Grandda went tree shopping so the tree should be ready for decorating. I can’t believe we have everyone here this year. I have so many grands here, I can’t keep them straight. I’m trying to figure out what to call Gloria. Will she mind if I call her Grandma, like you do Grammie?”
“If you ask her, I’ll bet she’d love it. She’s healed so much since you spent your holidays with her a couple of years ago. It surprised me when she took responsibility for what she put your father and me through. I understand how losing the love of your life can send you over the edge, though. I don’t think I could survive if something happened to James.”
“I’ll be there for you if the unthinkable happens.”
“I know, Alanna. You’ve been a treasure. I’ll be back in ten.” Morgan headed across to the rental/pro shop to pick up her surprise.
Gaia and Harry had the attendant at the tree lot help them tie down the twelve-foot blue spruce to the roof rack on the Navigator. Andrew had insisted all seven of them come up together, and they’d loaded the big SUV with luggage and skis in the twin Thule boxes on the roof. There’d been just enough room left over in the back to load in the small suitcases each of them packed when they’d headed out a couple of days ago. Looking at the huge tree, Gaia wondered how they’d get it into the great room, but Harry had a plan. Once he was sure the tree would stay where they’d anchored it down, he let Gaia drive them back to the cabin. It was a log house, but no one could call it small or crowded.
Driving up the lane into the front entrance, they saw Blaire’s car parked where she’d pulled in yesterday. The best part of this place was the trail network that allowed skiers to make their way back to their cabins. If it was too much of a trek after a day’s skiing, there was a shuttle that brought them back. They had four bedrooms on the upper level, two more in the basement. There were a couple of Murphy beds in great room as well. With three full baths and a half bath on the main floor, there were no fights getting ready in the mornings.
Gaia backed in beside her and looked at Harry, “Now what?”
“We get the tree stand out and attach it while it is still on the rack. I’ll get Eddy to help with it. Then I move it into the great room. The exercises Cardamon emailed me are finally starting to pay off. I moved and stacked all the deadwood on the property yesterday, not one bit of burn, and no tiredness. I still can’t go any distance to speak of, but when I can see the object I’m moving and the target to get it too, it works. May Goddess bless him richly this yule!”
Gaia turned to him, reaching across the console, and kissed him with grateful tenderness. He reached up and framed her face. “I know if you’ve been doing the series of magic work outs he sent you, you’re doing better too. I’m hoping Eddy Jr. will come to visit. I think it would do the world of good for Gloria to be able to see him. There’s a magnificent mirror mounted above the fireplace so you might be able to entice him to appear.”
“I’ve been wondering what gift my daughter would appreciate. She’s says the one big regret she has, is not having a chance to say goodbye to Eddy properly. She says she didn’t even get to see his body before the military cremated him. He was given a hero’s funeral, but she still aches for the closure of being able to adios. I’ve been able to hear him he’s worried about her too.” Gaia said, excitement etched on her expressive face.
“I’ll get Eddy, and we’ll get this monster tree into the house. Happy Yule sweetheart. Recovery has been slow, but it’s coming. I don’t feel helpless anymore.”